fat girl

Fat Girl; A True Story is the title of one of the most important books I’ve ever read, a memoir by writer Judith Moore. I think what struck me the most was her honesty and her daring to truly be herself in delivering her story of a heartbreakingly difficult childhood and a not so easy life as an adult who was overweight. I was immediately taken in by her introduction, where she is clear that this is not about a miracle cure she survived, it’s just about her life, as it is, or was, since she passed away in 2006. I’d like to quote a little of the introduction, just to give you a feeling for her refreshing authenticity:

“I am fat. I am not so fat that I can’t fasten the seat belt on the plane. But, fat I am. I wanted to write about what it was and is like for me, being fat. This will not be a book about how I had an eating disorder and how I conquered this disorder through therapies or group process or antidepressants or religion or twelve-step programs or a personal trainer or white-knuckling it or the love of a good man (or woman).

I am not a fat activist. This is not about the need for acceptance of fat people, although I would prefer that thinner people not find me disgusting… I will not write here about fat people I have known and I will not interview fat people… I will tell the story of my family and the food we ate. We were an unhappy family…

I mistrust real-life stories that conclude on a triumphant note. Rockettes will not arrive on the final page and kick up their high heels and show petticoats. This is a story about an unhappy fat girl who became a fat woman who was happy and unhappy… But I haven’t always been fat. I had days when I was almost thin.”

As you can see, she has a good sense of humour, but there were some stories that broke my heart, partly because I could identify with them, and partly because I couldn’t, but mostly because I wish this kind of suffering on absolutely NO ONE yet I know that literally millions of people know it.

bodyimagenatureI’m using her honest example as an introduction to continue to expose and reflect on my body image struggles, as I share this self-portrait (not too daring, but it’s a start) which shows me carrying an extra thirty pounds around my middle that I wish would magically disappear. Thirty pounds… big deal. It isn’t if you know what it is to be overweight by a hundred pounds more. But in my mind it is a big deal, and the effects on my self-esteem are not positive.

So let me remind myself, and any readers who may land here, that the point of this blog is to share a practice. Like Judith Moore’s book, which is a truthful exposure of her life and habits (which were not completely isolated or unique – others have similar experiences), we want this blog to be a series of honest reflections on our own body image issues, because we know them to not be experienced in a vacuum, yet for many, these issues are tightly guarded under wraps. Writing about them brings relief from the destructive shame that we carry, while the drawings bring about a change in perspective that is absolutely liberating. Not instantly or once and for all;  it does require a practice that slowly chips away at lifelong misperceptions fed by our culture.

While Judith Moore blatantly talks about “fat” and “fatness” I am less comfortable using negative language towards people and especially people’s bodies, but that is changing. Today, we’re questioning if those words are negative, or simply descriptive. There are fat, and short, and tall, and disabled acceptance movements, all asking to include everyone in body love… so we can redefine what weight all those words carry, neither positive or negative but neutral… nonjudgmental. I continue to wish for complete and total acceptance of everyone, exactly the way they are, freeing us all to be exactly who we are, no holds barred. Draw with us, you’ll see…!

– Colette

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What pains us makes us grow…

Is photographing and drawing myself narcissistic? Self-Absorbed? Vain?

Or could it become a simple, accessible way to heal from self-rejection?

For me it is definitely the second statement. I do it because I have always judged and criticized myself harshly, and drawing self-portraits is the best process I’ve found to really change my self-perspective. Usually, when I look in a mirror, it’s to check/criticize/correct, and in my never-ending quest for perfection I can always find something to fix.

wuafbaCC

I am 48 years old now and have been drawing myself for 12 years. I keep quitting and coming back to it, because in spite of my resistance, it helps. This image obsession has sucked so much vital energy from my life over the years that a part of me is really angry about it and has pushed me to act. Fortunately, there is a part of me that is able to see beyond the skewed vision of my mind and catch a glimpse of something else… an imperfect yet strong woman with a still-vulnerable little girl inside, a worthy and yes, a beautiful human being. AS ARE WE ALL…

It’s a double-edged sword in that it’s only because I want to be so outstandingly beautiful that I can possibly see myself as so pitifully ugly. And I’m not, even on the world’s terms, ugly. It’s craziness… but even crazier, our culture FEEDS this craziness!

I chose drawing because it was simple, accessible, free, and I had gentle, non-judgemental people around who encouraged me on this path even when I wanted to throw myself, them, or my drawings out the window. I am no longer shy to talk about this or show my work because I’ve had enough of falling back to the false visions and ingrained beliefs that are so harmful to my health and happiness.

We’ve agreed to only share drawings on this blog – to describe the process and invite others to try it – but I’m posting this photograph because it expresses in a single image just how much I’ve struggled with shame and fought for self-acceptance. And, because photography is  the foundation for our drawing practice.

Being old enough to remember life before digital cameras,  I must say they played a huge part in the development of this process because their accessibility lessened the cost as well as the performance aspect of photography.  My first digital camera allowed me simply to take many, many, pictures, period.

silhouetteCCWhen I began this self-image work, I took a minimum of three pictures of myself EVERY single day for nearly 3 years, and stored them in my computer. I didn’t even try to pose; most often I was balled up in shame, but over time I was able to experiment and slowly unfold my body. I eventually loosened up and even took some pictures of me dancing nude, which only I have ever seen because they were only taken for me to learn to love me.

To take self-portraits I use the timer, propping the camera up anywhere, and spontaneously throwing myself in front of the lens as the seconds tick down to the “click”. I don’t worry about lighting or backgrounds or positioning,  because taking the pictures is part of a process – it’s not about the results. In my mind, the pictures are only for drawing purposes anyways, so even if many of the photos are off-centred or unflattering, I keep them all, hoping to learn to accept myself from every angle.

But that is just the beginning – the most beautiful vision comes through when I take up a pencil and slowly transform the photographs into the simplest of drawings and later more detailed “artwork”.

Ultimately, we’re all “works of art”, just the way we are. Any other vision of ourselves is simply false.

 

– Colette